Philosophy and the Digital Humanities

Philosophy and the Digital Humanities


The above image is a detail from the famous “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch. “Enormously sized, lavishly detailed, and compellingly grotesque,” the work is now available to explore in an “online interactive adventure.” Viewers can take a “15 step” tour of the image, or go their own route, clicking on the flags placed on the image to listen to or read more information and stories, as well as music and noise. It’s an impressive use of online multimedia technology to bring some art history to the public, for free.

So here’s an idea: take relatively short and provocative passages from some well-known works in philosophy and do something similar. Have an attractive scan of the passage—a page or two, maybe from an early edition (or translation)—with certain words or phrases flagged. At the click of the flag, the viewer can listen to one or a few brief commentaries about it and its significance in the larger work or set of ideas. Perhaps there is some relevant cultural context which can be conveyed with music or art. Perhaps there are issues of contemporary everyday concern relevant to the passage which another commenter can draw out. A collection of such pages could form a small online museum of excerpts of philosophy texts.

If you think this is a good idea, go for it. In the meanwhile, I’d be interested in hearing about similar projects in philosophy that may be underway, or other ideas for bringing philosophy into the digital humanities, be they practical or fanciful or, like Bosch’s painting, weird.

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Shen-yi Liao
5 years ago

I’m not sure what exactly is digital humanities, but here’s something I’ve found good student reception recently…

I teach Miranda Fricker on hermeneutic injustice, and use Google Ngram to illustrate it. Of course, Fricker’s own example of “sexual harassment” is good, and one can see a sharp increase of its discussion starting around the 1970s. However, since we also talk about race, I also show the ngram for the term “racism”, which does not get serious discussion until after the civil rights movement — even though it seems like such a crucial concept nowadays. Moreover, I pair that discovery with a passage from WEB Du Bois on “that nameless prejudice” that he felt, to really hammer home the point about hermeneutical injustice.Report

Mike Sturm
5 years ago

My immediate thought after reading this was Whitehead’s “Process and Reality”. That would be fun to navigate through in the way you describe. It sure would have helped me as I first tried to navigate it as a poor undergrad.Report

Lisa Shapiro
5 years ago

The New Narratives in the History of Philosophy Project and Project Vox are interconnected projects on early modern women philosophers that have a digital humanities component. New Narratives is in the process of generating a comprehensive bibliography of primary source material — that is philosophical works authored by early modern women — that will be the basis of a digital collection: Word searchable digital versions of some of these works that have not yet been adequately digitized. We hope that those digitized texts can be the basis for more elaborate digital information that includes historical context, lines of influence, and the like. We also have ambitions to create podcasts, videos and other supplemental material to supplement the texts. Right now we are working getting some social media going.
The most sophisticated digital humanities project that is arguably related to phllosophy is the Six Degrees of Francis Bacon project: http://www.sixdegreesoffrancisbacon.com/Report

Paul Humphreys
Paul Humphreys
5 years ago

The University of Virginia’s Center for the Study of Data and Knowledge, (which I co-direct ) has as one of its goals to connect research in the data sciences with humanities research. See http://csdk.shanti.virginia.edu/ Because philosophy is so far behind areas like English literature in the digital humanities, I’d be happy to hear via e-mail from any philosophers who are engaged in digital humanities research (rather than pedagogy) or related areas, such as data analytics or philosophy of science.
Paul HumphreysReport

Mark Alfano
5 years ago

Along with Andrew Higgins and Jacob Levernier, I am working on a DH project that extracts patterns of virtues, values, and constituents of wellbeing from obituaries (http://www.alfanophilosophy.com/media/mapping-human-values/). So far, I’ve only worked on contemporary American obits, but the plan is to expand the focus of the work both geographically and in time, and to connect it with relevant philosophical and historical texts, such as Plato’s Menexenus and Pericles’ funeral oration.Report

Commenter
Commenter
5 years ago

http://genius.com/tags/philosophy does something similar to what you describe (explicating key passages, their context and whatnot), only not so well from what little I’ve seen.Report

Torsten Wilholt
5 years ago

One of the most useful DH projects I have seen has now been around for many years: The perseus project. Many of you probably know it; those of you who don’t should check it out. (I’m not in any way affiliated with it, just a fan.) It has a large database of classical texts, including a great amount of philosophy. It lets you switch back and forth between original texts and English translations, and (the best of it, in my opinion) each word in the original is clickable; the click leads you to a morphological analysis plus dictionary entries. An example to play with: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0051%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D980a
While I’m at it: Project Vox is awesome.Report

Arianna
5 years ago

Amsterdam here. In the coming five years I’ll lead a major project that is going to create a new computational methodology for the history of philosophical ideas – it’s about finding a scholarly sound and computationally implementable method to trace ideas through time and space in 1740-1940 ; we start with some initial test-cases (Wolff, Kant, Frege, Bolzano and Russell) focusing on the concept of axiomatic science and mathematics/biology, and then we apply the method so tested to about 600 books from 1740-1940 to trace the concepts of life, plurality and consequence. More will be published soon on a dedicated website. My group and I have done research on applying computational tools to (the history of) philosophy since 2009 in various areas (since we needed to address quite a number of problems: OCR and corpus-building, visualisation, text-mining etc.) but this is the biggest project we have gotten so far. The team is going to be four philosophers and one computational linguist plus a programmer and a research assistant. Going the computational way as philosophers is demanding and time consuming, but very exciting and rewarding as well as instructive and an eye-opener on many other research traditions – because of its interdisciplinarity. You find a bit more on http://www.axiom.humanities.uva.nl/arianna/Report

Adam Burgos
Adam Burgos
5 years ago

I was going to mention Genius too. The philosophy content on the site is not that great at the moment but that can be fixed by having knowledgeable folks get into it a bit. It was originally (and for the part still is) an annotation site for music lyrics, and its popularity means that students most likely already know about it. That could be a plus for incorporating it into the classroom.Report